By Attorney Kelly Jesson
With estate planning, like many other things, cheaper is normally not better. With online, fill-in-the blank options, the question assumes you understand it and know the answer. If you do not, you could be filling it in incorrectly. One top DIY legal document company used to have a note on its website that said “80% of people do not complete online forms correctly” (trying to get people to upgrade to a “live attorney” package). Specific words have meanings, and if you do not understand the law in your state, there can be some unintended consequences when doing it yourself. For example, you could unintentionally disinherit a child. You could accidentally leave money to someone you didn’t know was included in a class of people.
Most do-it-yourself forms leave out provisions that makes things easier and less expensive to manage, like extra powers in the Durable Power of Attorney that can help your loved ones if you are incapacitated or including the power to sell real estate in a will (saving your estate thousands of dollars). You may also accidentally leave assets in the wrong hands, such as having minors inheriting property, resulting in costly court proceedings to fix. Many companies rely on documents and laws that are not always up to date or they may not be state-specific (although advertised to be), and the remedies may be expensive and require an attorney or court proceeding to fix.
Additionally, estate planning attorneys are not just document drafters. There’s a reason why it is called “estate planning” and not “will drafting.” We counsel our clients as to their choice of guardian and executors, leaving money to kids, helping ensure that ex-spouses don’t inherit, etc. We help our clients plan for death or incapacity utilizing real estate deeds, beneficiary designations on retirement and life insurance policies, and business agreements. Did you know that your will could leave everything to one person, but if you have someone else named as a beneficiary on a policy, that trumps your will? Some surviving spouses are sad to learn that they do not inherit real estate outright due to the owners on the title. We update titles for our clients if they want to, in advance. If you wait until someone has passed, it is too late.
If something goes wrong with an online legal document, you are SOL (so out of luck). Just look at LegalZoom’s terms of service: “. . . LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all of the information on the Site or Applications is completely current. The law is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may be subject to interpretation by different courts. The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance. Furthermore, the legal information contained on the Site and Applications is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. Therefore, if you need legal advice for your specific problem, or if your specific problem is too complex to be addressed by our tools, you should consult a licensed attorney in your area.” If an attorney does something wrong that results in damages, you or your family can sue them for malpractice.
Using online forms gives the drafter / purchaser a false sense of security. While they may have saved a few thousand dollars, the true price may be far greater and paid by undeserving family members. Investing in estate planning is investing in your family’s future, and who can put a price on that? If you’re ready to get your estate plan in order, give Jesson & Rains a call.
Subscribe to our newsletter.